February 12, 2013
The Rosner-Fuchs Exchange, Part 2: The Undecided Voters Eventually Voted for Change
Professor Camil Fuchs, who has been a valuable contributor to Rosner's Domain for the past year, is a veteran Israeli statistician. He is a Professor of Statistics at Tel Aviv University, where he has also served as head of the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, and as the chairman of the School of Mathematical Sciences. Professor Fuchs, who is the official pollster of Haaretz daily and channel 10 news, has been one of the leading and most reliable polling experts in Israel for many years.
In the second part of this exchange about the results of the Israeli elections (part one can be found here), we go further into the Yair Lapid phenomenon.
So the polls were fine and the voters made up their minds at the last minute. That's very interesting and raises a new set of question about which I hope you can give us some insight. I have several questions, but let's begin with this one:
Do we really have any way of knowing that the same last-minute decision would have taken place if elections were a week earlier or a week later? In other words: is it something inherently strong about the way the Lapid Party was presented to the public that appealed to the many undecided voters? Or maybe the undecided voters were just shopping around for the trendiest party and Lapid happened to have the luck of peaking at the right moment?
Looking forward to get your thoughts on these questions.
My professional deformation compels me to try to set things straight, especially when the issue is numbers: So, in my previous letter, I didn't say that all the polls were fine (in fact I mentioned some suspicious ones) and certainly not all the voters made up their minds at the last minute. But many did, and they made a difference.
Now, to answer your question- in retrospective, yes, there were several features of the Lapid Party that appealed to the undecided voters, both general features as well as features specific to the last moment decision. Let us recall that many undecided voters originated from the center of the political turf, following the collapse of the largest party in the Knesset (Kadima, which from 28 seats became the smallest party with only two seats which barely passed the threshold of 2%). Lapid's party was there to reap the profits. But since this was the case throughout the entire campaign it doesn't explain the extra last minute support.
That support was a result of the exceptional constellation which also caused the last minute shrinkage of the between-blocs gap. Lapid's party collected votes which passed from Likud through Benett's party and ended in Lapid's laps. How did that happen?
Well, in the last weeks before the elections we observed a significant and continual increase in the support for Benett's Habayit Hayehudi party, at the expense of the decrease in support for Likud. Those were movements of votes within the right-wing bloc, which had little influence on our graphs which depicted the support for the two blocs.
But then, the Likud reacted with a barrage of personal attacks on Benett and on his party, focusing on the extremism of some of their candidates. The attacks succeeded, but not as the Likud expected. The votes which left Likud, did not return to Netanyahu's party but rather moved slightly to the center to Lapid's party. The well-known pundit Amnon Abramovich, wrote that Benett's party was the pipe through which votes moved from Netanyahu's party to Lapid's party. I think that this metaphor describes quite well what went on.
You asked whether Lapid's party was the trendiest party to receive the undecided and the protest votes. I know that this opinion is quite popular. Roger Cohen, for instance, quotes in the New York Times the Israeli historian Tom Segev who said that voters who chose Lapid "decided to vote for nothing, a TV image, a kind of anti-Orthodox Likud lite".
But I respectfully disagree. Yes, many of those who voted for Lapid, voted for "a TV image, a kind of anti-Ortodox Likud lite", but I don't think that they "decided to vote for nothing". They found in Lapid a party which, while not very clear on its positions on all the issues, is branded as "center" (just like the voters themselves). They also found in Yesh Atid a party which is likely to join the government and not the opposition. The people wanted to give the government a more center-like and less extremist flavor.
You see, many of those who wanted to protest voted for small parties which did not pass the 2% threshold. The number of those "wasted" votes more than doubled compared to the last elections (268,000 versus 104,000). But, in my opinion, the undecided who ended up voting for Lapid's party cannot be considered as "votes for nothing" or votes for the "trendiest party". I believe that the vote for Lapid's party was a vote for a change, a change which was deemed as a necessary one in Israel.
With best regards